What do American employers owe their employees with mental health conditions

This situation will become more prevalent thanks to the pandemic.

Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

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Photo by Stormseeker on Unsplash

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This article will start with a general discussion on accommodations and then move on to the specifics of a mental health condition.

Is the employer required to provide accommodations?

Unless one of the following extremely narrow conditions applies, employers must “engage in the interactive process,” which means talk to the employee when an accommodations request is made.

1. The employer is too small

All employers with fifteen or more employees have a duty to provide reasonable accommodations such as assistance or changes to a position or workplace that will enable an employee to do their job despite having a disability. If you have less than 15 employees, you are exempt from the requirement to provide reasonable accommodations UNLESS your state has a local law that triggers accommodations with fewer employees. For example, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing starts requiring reasonable accommodations with the fifth employee. So tiny employers might be exempt from the requirement of providing n accommodation. Even then, they are never exempt from:

a. Retaliation claims made by the employee for making the request;

b. Bad publicity resulting from the employer denying the request;

c. Lower employee productivity and morale after the request is denied;

d. Cost of employee turnover.

2. The condition isn’t a disability

Disability is a very subjective thing. Two people with the same diagnosis and the same objective test results can have different answers to the question “am I disabled?” One person might feel that their condition is disabling. The other might not.

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Sheri Byrne-Haber, CPACC

LinkedIn Top Voice for Social Impact 2022. UX Collective Author of the Year 2020. Disability Inclusion SME. Sr Staff Accessibility Architect @ VMware.